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Combining direct and indirect genetic methods to estimate dispersal for informing wildlife disease management decisions


Catherine Cullingham, Fax: (780) 492-9234; E-mail:


Epidemiological models are useful tools for management to predict and control wildlife disease outbreaks. Dispersal behaviours of the vector are critical in determining patterns of disease spread, and key variables in epidemiological models, yet they are difficult to measure. Raccoon rabies is enzootic over the eastern seaboard of North America and management actions to control its spread are costly. Understanding dispersal behaviours of raccoons can contribute to refining management protocols to reduce economic impacts. Here, estimates of dispersal were obtained through parentage and spatial genetic analyses of raccoons in two areas at the front of the raccoon rabies epizootic in Ontario; Niagara (N = 296) and St Lawrence (N = 593). Parentage analysis indicated the dispersal distance distribution is highly positively skewed with 85% of raccoons, both male and female, moving < 3 km. The tail of this distribution indicated a small proportion (< 4%) moves more than 20 km. Analysis of spatial genetic structure provided a similar assessment as the spatial genetic correlation coefficient dropped sharply after 1 km. Directionality of dispersal would have important implications for control actions; however, evidence of directional bias was not found. Separating the data into age and sex classes the spatial genetic analyses detected female philopatry. Dispersal distances differed significantly between juveniles and adults, while juveniles in the Niagara region were significantly more related to each other than adults were to each other. Factors that may contribute to these differences include kin association, and spring dispersal. Changes to the timing and area covered by rabies control operations in Ontario are indicated based on these dispersal data.

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